Malaysia's ancient entrepot taps into new maritime silk road for rejuvenation

Updated 2017-05-04 14:00:28 Xinhua

More than 600 hundred years ago, the Malay dynasty of Malacca rose from the ancient maritime silk road to become a major trading hub in Southeast Asia, attracting traders and visitors from both east and west.

The Strait of Malacca was named in its glory years, but of late Malacca is no longer one of the world's busiest sea lanes and has become somewhat irrelevant as global trade has blossomed.

The visits of the great armada of Zheng He, a revered Chinese navigator during the Ming Dynasty, facilitated Malacca's rise in the early 15th century. Six centuries later, Malacca is once again looking to China on its quest for rejuvenation.

PAST GLORIES

Jonker Street is the heart of Malacca's historic towns and has traditional Chinese-style arcades with overhanging stands on both sides of the street. They are mixed with multi-cultural heritage originating from Europe, the Middle East and Asia and brought into the town when Malacca served as a major port in the region.

In 2008, Malacca and George Town on Malaysia's northern island of Penang were inscribed on the World Heritage List.

Recalling the glorious days of Malacca, Idris Haron, Chief Minister of the State of Malacca said, "It was recorded that more than 84 languages were spoken in the state of Malacca at that time, and the volume of trade was tremendous."

For those who come to Malacca today to appreciate its great heritage, it's not difficult to notice that one significant thing is absent from the once famous trade hub, and that's a busy port.

After a century of prosperity, Malacca fell into the hands of the Portuguese in the early 16th century, before being taken over by the Dutch and subsequently, the British. Thereafter, it slowly lost out to regional rivals like Singapore.

Today, Malacca is among the smallest states in Malaysia with a population of less than one million people and due to a lack of natural resources and heavy industry, tourism is the pillar of Malacca's economy.

Gan Tian Loo, a former Exco member of the state government, said Malacca was at one time called a "sleeping town".

EMBRACING BELT AND ROAD

As Malacca seeks new impetus for its development, it has tapped into its historic ties and friendship with China and actively embraced the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative, namely the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road.

"To me the historical factor is the number one reason why I want Malacca to be part of the bigger Belt and Road picture," Idris told Xinhua in an interview.

"Malacca and China have long been associated and related and we are not going to compromise that, we are going to capitalize on this relationship," he said.

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